In the Gospel of Luke 24.13-35 we are given a story wherein two downtrodden disciples make their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus after the crucifixion of Jesus. The Evangelist preserves the name of one: Cleopas. The other figure remains anonymous. Jesus had been crucified a few days ago. This event weighed heavily on the hearts and minds of these two disciples. As they would state later (v. 21), “…we were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel.” Their Messiah had died seemingly proving that he was no Messiah at all.
The Evangelist had told a story earlier in his narrative (22.14-22) wherein Jesus and his disciples gathered for their final meal. I don’t know if he intended to depict these particular disciples as present at that meal, but he does emphasize that as Jesus established what we call “the Eucharist meal” one of his central actions was the breaking and giving of bread. He told them that this symbolized his body which would be “broken” as well.
As we move back to the “road to Emmaus” story we find that these two disciples are met by the risen Jesus. They do not recognize Jesus as he appears to them incognito. In fact, the Evangelist says (v. 16), “…their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” They were not given the ability to see or recognize the risen Jesus. Jesus engages them in a conversation and they rebuke him for being unaware of the recent events concerning himself. Ironic! In response Jesus rebukes them before proclaiming the necessity of all these events from Scripture (a dialogue that I would have liked to have heard).
As they reach their destination Jesus acts as if he will continue his journey. This seems to prompt them to invite him to dinner. Amazingly enough, it isn’t until Jesus has taken bread, blessed it, broken it, and handed it to them that they recognize who it is that sits with them. Jesus disappears.
There is something beautifully sacramental about this passage, both as a story that invites us to know the risen Lord and the imagery of the bread being connected to Jesus’ revealing. There is something very much like the Eucharist happening here. Jesus has proclaimed himself in the bread and he is recognized in that very element.
On this Holy Thursday we remember that Jesus gave us a meal and that in that meal we meet him, together. There is something precious about this. The meal being a place of invitation and fellowship. Jesus inviting us into that meal. In Johannine language he is that very meal. We meet, he is present, he feeds us the “Bread of Life.” We may not recognize his presence though he is there all the time, yet the meal invites us to regain our “eyes of faith” so we can see him.